1 Peter 3:18-20 and Gospel of Peter 38-42

I’ve been pondering a lot lately the remarkable similarities between 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6, and Gospel of Peter 38-42. Here are these three passages, for comparison’s sake:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

1 Peter 3:18-20

For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.

1 Peter 4:6

And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, “Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?” And an obeisance was heard from the cross, “Yes.”

Gospel of Peter 38-42

These passages in 1 Peter have been devilishly hard for interpreters. At face value, they seem to say that Jesus, after he was crucified, traveled to a heavenly prison where God kept the souls of the sinners who died in the Noahic flood, converted them, and then was resurrected. It is now virtually scholarly consensus, however, that, following 1 Enoch, the “spirits in prison” are fallen angels. Moreover, according to consensus, ἐκήρυξεν (ekēruxen, “preached”) in 1 Peter 3:19 does not mean that Jesus preached to these fallen angels in order to convert them; instead, it means that he proclaimed to them his victory. This text thus has no direct relation to 4:6; “the spirits in prison” of 3:19 are not “the dead” of 4:6.

It seems to me, though, that Gospel of Peter 38-42 functions as a sort of narrative commentary on 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6. That is, it seems entirely plausible to me that a later community, having a copy of 1 Peter, read 3:18-4:6 at face value and inserted them into the resurrection narrative: Jesus quite literally preached to the dead between the time he was crucified and the time he was resurrected.

Another option, though somewhat less likely, is that 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 4:6 are interpolations into the text of the epistle, based on the sequence of events that found its way into the Gospel of Peter. For instance, here is the latter part of 1 Peter 3 both with and without verses 19-20. (For the sake of space, I won’t show the same comparison with 1 Peter 4; 1 Peter 3 represents them both well enough.)

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. . . . Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Notice that the second paragraph still makes perfect sense; baptism here doesn’t correspond to the Noahic flood, it corresponds to Jesus’ death and resurrection (much like it does in Paul, in Romans 6). The “in which…” phrase could thus be an interpolation of a note, written in the margin by a member of the Petrine community or somesuch, but copied into the body of the letter by a later scribe (like we have in 2 Corinthians).

Unfortunately, while interesting the think about, the latter option is pure speculation, and should be taken with a grain of salt. I do find the first idea compelling, though, and would thus argue that in the Gospel of Peter we have an early commentary on 1 Peter 3 and 4. (From this conclusion, we may conclude two other things: 1) since 1 Peter and the Gospel of Peter have such similar ideas about what happened to Jesus between his death and his resurrection, they came from the same community, which was probably self-consciously Petrine; 2) this Petrine Christianity seems much more mystical than Pauline Christianity or that of the Evangelists.)

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

10 responses to “1 Peter 3:18-20 and Gospel of Peter 38-42

  1. Interesting thoughts Cory. I enjoyed reading this. I think that I would concur with you that the verse concerning Noah is not redactional, primarily because of the logical / typological connection between being saved through water and being saved through Baptism.

    I tend to not view the passage as referring to fallen angels, but I struggle with the theological implications of Christ’s salvific work being proclaimed to the dead. That would seem to indicate a sort of postmortem chance at salvation that I’m not sure Scripture elsewhere warrants, as it seems to treat death with such finality. I also struggle with the extent to which such an interpretation seems to force a body / spirit dichotomy perhaps too strongly. I am really interested in studying this passage further though, as I will have to provide some small exegesis of it for my doctoral dissertation I think (which is about Baptism).

  2. Thanks, Shep!

    First question: are there any other places where the NT connects baptism and Noah’s flood? (Sorry for the laziness — I’m making breakfast for Abby and me right now, and I can’t really check. Haha.)

    Second: The idea of post-mortem salvation is where a lot of people get hung up, I think. I’d agree with scholars that 3:19-20 refers to the map of heaven in 1 Enoch, but then 4:6 becomes really difficult to interpret. In fact, in one commentary I looked at (the ICC, I believe), the commentator says flat out that he can’t make any definite statements about who “the dead” in 4:6 are, since 4:6 doesn’t have anything to do with 3:18-20. I suppose a third option could be that, within the Petrine community, the map of heaven in 1 Enoch was accepted, and the author of 1 Peter is riffing off of that map, including the ante-diluvian sinners along with the fallen angels.

  3. The first connection that comes to mind would be Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, when the dove descends onto Him much as Noah’s dove descended on the new creation. Aside from that I cannot think of any places, though Noah is certainly a recurring figure in Petrine literature, along with the Flood of Water as the past judgment and the Fire of Heaven as the future judgment (baptism of water and baptism of fire [Spirit] both being signs of judgment]). See 2 Peter chapters 2 and 3.

    It strikes me now that the interpretation of the spirits imprisoned as angelic beings is potentially bolstered by the parallel (?) passage in 2 Peter 2:4-5. But I wonder if in that context “angel” means “messenger”, given the surrounding condemnation of false prophets / teachers. I wonder if a word study on angelos in Petrine literature might turn up any clues. Or maybe Peter is using fallen angels as some sort of metaphor for false prophets?

  4. Re: Noah — In 2 Peter, the Noahic flood is an example of divine judgment. It does seem more than a little incongruous to me that 1 Peter cites the flood as a type for baptism and that 2 Peter cites it as a type for the judgment of the false prophets. (But then again, for a single author, the same image can be a metaphor for more than one thing; it would be a shame to fall into the trap of overharmonization and say that for the Petrine community, the flood had to be either a symbol for baptism or a symbol for judgment. But it’s still something to think through.)

    Re: fallen angels — It seems to me that 2 Peter (and, for that matter, Jude) uses the image of fallen angels to describe the false prophets. In other words, just like the fallen angels once held positions of glory but now are doomed to “chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment,” so the false prophets once were in good standing with God and the church, but are now under the threat of eternal punishment.

    Getting back to 1 Peter, I think 2 Peter/Jude’s description of the fallen angels’ punishment provide support for the idea that 1 Peter riffs off of the map of the netherworld in 1 Enoch. 2 Peter talks about the fallen angels being imprisoned to await the judgment (like in 1 Enoch), but also refers to the fallen angels as being in Tartarus (like Greek myth, unlike 1 Enoch). So, if 2 Peter can take the Enoch tradition and expand it, it’s possible that 1 Peter is doing the same thing; that is, including the sinners contemporaneous with Noah along with the fallen angels.

  5. I think I agree with you on the angels. On the topic of Noah, does “judgment” necessarily have to be constrained to “condemnation”? The way I’m thinking of it is this: the water that destroyed the sinful evil world in Noah’s day also saved Noah and his family from that very evil world. The water of the Red Sea destroyed the Egyptians and saved the Israelites (1 Cor. 10:2). Similarly Christians have already been “judged” in an already / not yet sense by water (baptism) and fire (spirit baptism). Through this they are delivered from the fiery wrath to come. This is how Peter can transition so flexibly through those condemned in Noah’s day > Noah’s salvation > our salvation in baptism.

    What do you think?

  6. Hmm…

    I tend to see baptism as a declaration that someone is a member of God’s people (I think that’s a definition paedobaptist and credobaptist can agree on pretty easily). I suppose, if you define “judged” as “judgment having been handed down concerning…”, then, at baptism, the person is “judged” to be a member of God’s people.

    I think you can use two definitions of “judged” in regards to the Noah story. In the first case, the inhabitants of the earth are judged (in a condemnatory sense) for their sins, while in the second case, Noah and his family are judged (in a forensic sense) to be righteous. Thus, the judgment in the flood story is multi-faceted; it condemns and destroys sin while acknowledging and preserving righteousness. (Which, interestingly, looks a lot like sanctification. And, re-reading your comment, looks a lot like what you wrote. Haha.)

  7. I think we agree on that too, then!

    By the way you’ve got an impressive blog going here. I’m glad you are posting regularly. Good to talk theology again with you Cory.

    Blessings and peace.

  8. Thanks, Shep! You’re welcome around these parts anytime.

    I hope the UK is treating you well.

  9. Pingback: Resources for 1 Peter 3:18 - 20

  10. Pingback: Beatles Scholarship in the Year 3126 | Ex Libris

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s